Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders are a group of mental health disorders characterized by significant feelings of anxiety and fear. Anxiety disorders differ from normal fear or anxiety by being excessive or persisting. Anxiety is a worry about future events, while fear is a reaction to current events. These feelings may cause physical symptoms, such as increased heart rate and shakiness.

There are several anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder characterized by long-lasting anxiety which is not focused on any one object or situation. There is specific phobia which is a significant anxiety attributed to a particular object that causes fear). Social anxiety disorder is a fear and avoidance of negative public scrutiny, public embarrassment, humiliation, or social interaction. Separation anxiety disorder consists of a feeling of excessive levels of anxiety over being separated from a person or place. Agoraphobia is a type of specific anxiety about being in a place or situation where escape is difficult or embarrassing or where help may be unavailable such as in a public place. Panic disorder consists of brief attacks of intense terror and apprehension, often marked by trembling, shaking, confusion, dizziness, nausea, and/or difficulty breathing. Anxiety disorders differ by the significance of the level of symptoms. An individual may have more than one anxiety disorder and this assessment can be made during the course of initial appointments and further treatment (to delineate other symptoms that may be prevalent). 

The cause of anxiety disorders is thought to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors (i.e., family history of anxiety). Anxiety disorders often occur with other mental health disorders, particularly major depressive disorder. Oftentimes children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) struggle with anxiety related to their ASD diagnosis and this involves targeted treatment. To be diagnosed, anxiety symptoms typically need to impact the person’s ability to function with relative ease in their daily life.

Without treatment, anxiety disorders tend to remain. Treatment may include lifestyle changes, counseling, and medication management if the symptoms are very significant. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most common evidence-based therapy techniques used in treatment of anxiety disorders and is a first line treatment. Mindfulness based programs also appear to be effective for managing anxiety disorders.